Friday, 19 December 2014

Afu Chan, Giannis Milonogiannis, Josh Tierney announce sci-fi mini-series 'HaloGen'

I saw the news of this over at Multiversity Comics, and it piqued my interest, largely due to the creative team working on it. Set to be a 4-issue mini-series, HaloGen reunites Spera artists Afu Chan and Giannis Milonogiannis (Old City Blues, Prophet) with writer Josh Tierney on a sci-fi story which sees HaloGen agent Rell investigate rumours (and should it be required: retrieval) of a gigantic, dead god found floating in space. I've got to admit, I really like that as a hook. Tierney will be scripting the book, with Chan on artistic duties, while Milonogiannis is listed as a co-creator and has contributed covers. I like the sound of this, but what I'm most excited about is seeing Afu Chan's work on another book- it's difficult to tell from that cover image alone (his is on the left, the one on the right is a variant by Milionogiannis), but it looks like he may have switched up hist style a little for this, but the prospect of him on a sci-fi book, taking it away with world-building and potential spacey scenarios is impossible to resist. If you haven't already, or are wondering what I'm talking about, simply wander over to his site and gaze awhile. HaloGen will be published by Boom! and begin serialisation in March next year.

(via Multiversity)

UK comics imprint Great Beast closes its doors

UK publishing imprint, Great Beast, have announced they'll be closing up shop, with January 7th serving as the final day of business. Founded by cartoonists Adam Cadwell and Marc Ellerby in 2012,  Great Beast was initially intended as a place for the artists to publish their own work, but grew to home a self-publishing collective that included Robert Ball, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Rachael Smith, Isabel Greenberg, Dan Berry, John Cei-Douglas and more. Ellerby left Great Beast earlier this year as his comics and illustration commitments picked up pace, and now Cadwell is following suit, which means there is no one left with the time and knowledge to run the imprint. And as Great Beast has been more a group of artists publishing their own work under an umbrella name, the option to hire someone to take over and continue isn't financially viable anyway. It's hard to be sad about this, as it seems for Cadwell and Ellerby, the venture more than served its purpose and has now naturally come to an end as they've grown and become busier with work- which is a good thing. No doubt the other artists involved will also still be producing their own comics, as well.

'On 7th January 2015 Great Beast Comics will close it doors for the foreseeable future.

This means that all of our creators will no longer self publish comics under the Great Beast banner and our online store will close. All our creators will sell their titles personally until the end of their print runs. Our titles will only remain available digitally on Comixology.

The reason behind this decision is that the Beast has grown too big for us to handle. As the group got bigger, as the books became more successful and as we widened the range of shops we sold to there became more of a need for the management and promotion to come from one or two people and Marc Ellerby and I (Adam Cadwell) happily took up that role. However, as time went on we found that the time spent working for the benefit of the group was getting in the way of us actually making our own comics, which is why we started the group in the first place. In Summer, Marc stepped back from the ‘publishing’ side of things to focus on his freelance work and his comics and now as 2014 draws to a close I feel like it’s time for me to do the same.

We looked at many ways of monetising the group so we could pay someone to run things whilst still giving the creators the bulk of the profits but we just couldn’t find a fair way to make it work. I wish we could find a business minded person who loved our comics (but didn’t make comics themselves) who could find a way to make the model financially viable and take over but I can’t imagine who that would be or how it would work.'

In the meantime, there's a 25% off everything sale at the online store with the code 'shutitdown': I highly recommend Robert Ball's Winter's Knight, and Ellerby's Chloe Noonan comics.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How to be Happy: the bittersweet symphony of life

How to be happy. It's a good title, isn't it? Instantly evokes the language of self-help/improvement guide/living manuals/whatever you want to call them, and with it the feelings you have for that particular genre: disdain, maybe. Scepticism. Ambivalence. Interest. Hope. Paired with the bright, cheery colours of Davis'c over and the foremost image of a mother picking flowers with a baby; the associations of nature and nurture and earthiness: what many would consider a bit new-age and hippy-dippy. But look closer, past the mother and child, and you'll see a man falling out of the sky, a woman clutching her head in her hands, another sat pensively on a roof, her knees to her chest, two men with their hands at each others throats- perhaps in an embrace, perhaps not.

This is the first major collection of Davis' work, and as indicated, a number of the comics within explore a string of related themes: mental health and well-being, the nature of people, the behaviour, manouvering and justification of self, social expectations, the things we tell ourselves to get by, the day-today give and take, even concerns about depletion and the environment- poisoning nature and by extension ourselves. Like the 'self-help' angle, I'm aware some of those subjects can sound very dry, particularly as they can often carry a lot of negative presumptions with them: pompous, faffy ideals, but Davis is too good a cartoonist to allow that to happen. Take the opening story, In Our Eden. In it, a group of people have moved from the city to live in a woodland, country area, with a view to leaving behind material, worldly objects and concepts, free from social constructs, to become closer to nature and one another. The leader of this commune seems to be Adam (formerly Darryl), a man who becomes increasingly extreme, dictating harsher and harsher rules: nothing industrially made is allowed, no tools, no meat, punishment for those who argue as conflict is 'unnatural' -gradually isolating the group one by one so that they leave.

The 'Eden' and 'Adam' imply connections of old: a desire to return to goodness and nature, where evil is removed, 'Before the fall was bliss,' says Adam, but that nirvana is unachievable because hestill harbours the human, where judgement and shame still exists. In a way he embodies the unholy trinity: god, satan and man: the first demanding perfection from an imperfect set-up, the second shown in menacing, silent panels in which his whole body turns a wrathful red, and yet ultimately remaining just a man and all that that encompasses. And he -man- is to blame. 'Eve' here is a secondary character, a loving, supporting companion, willing to believe in Adam and his vision until the end. Eden is coloured  in a lush, beautiful range of shades in a style reminiscent of folkloric, wood-cut prints, reinforcing the primitive natural. Eden suggests that while the people and their desire to change is well-intentioned, and practicable to a degree, if you can't first change within yourself, it doesn't really matter where you are, or how little or much you have, or how far you're willing to go. 

Nita Goes Home espouses similar commentary and though. In an eco-futuristic world in which healthy, green areas are sealed off from vast, poisonous, crowded slum-like cities, Nita, returns to the city in which she grew up to visit her dying father. There's tension between her Nita and her sister who still resides in the city, as Nita makes horrified comments about the harmful mass-produced food and the effect it has. She's upset when her sister points out not everyone is lucky as her and are unable to afford the much more expensive, organic fruit, seeing it as jab at her more privileged lifestyle. It's difficult not to view her as ridiculous as she weeps, 'I believe everyone should have the right to eat gais-grown!' Again, the ideal is well-intentioned, but far-off from the reality of many, many people. Nita's defensive reaction to what she perceives to be her sister's judgement, belies some of her guilt at being in a better position, but her lack of awareness is also rather galling- more so, perhaps when you consider she's from the same background. I really like the designs in this story- Davis manages to really create a unique impression of the future: a highly saturated, very rich colour palette which is a far cry from the clean, clinical blue/green/grey so often used in sci-fi, the tox-off suits which keep out poisonous fumes are robe-like- the colours, hoods and draping reminiscent of saris, whilst remaining futuristic, the floating squares of digital interfaces all around.

Nita ties together the concept of betterment through nature: in looking after nature we look after ourselves. If Eden and the past was a garden, the future is a barren techno-wasteland. The state of nature is inextricably tied to the state of humans- our future depends on preserving, retaining, or being able to replicate our resources and environment. And yet our relationship with nature has been largely destructive and exploitative. Perhaps if we were able to change that we would be able to change ourselves, or if we were able to change ourselves we would be able to change that. Davis comics then continue to explore and negotiate a holistic approach, moving on to looking into people: the emotional, spiritual. How do you deal with life? Do you feel an emptiness? How do you fill it? What gets you through each day? Are you happy? What makes you happy? Are you content? Why? What is your purpose? One of the strongest pages which struck me is a simple 4 panel comic placed in the center of a page of stark, blank white. Each panel shows the same woman at different stages in her life, getting older, facing the reader- addressing them directly:

'I used to be so unhappy.  But then I got prozac.'
'I used to be so unhappy. But then I took up meditation.'
'I used to be so unhappy. But then I had a baby.'
'I used to be so unhappy. But then I tried yoga.'

And immediately on the next page a full page illustration of an incredibly distressed, weeping woman, clutching at her face. How are we supposed to feel towards this woman- sad that she seems to be unfulfilled, sad about her continuing search to find something, anything that gives here a sense of anchorage and purpose, or is it okay that at different stages she looks to different things to help her get by. Are we supposed to judge or understand? Is it okay or scary to think that perhaps meaning is never really found, and what is the appropriate response to that? The repetition of her statements replicates self-help mantras- the idea that people are told to stand in front of the mirror and repeat affirming statements to boost confidence and belief- like rolling beads, the more you repeat and roll the more tangible and embedded it becomes. Repetition is used for emphasis, to reiterate, and yet there is something unsure and unconvincing in the woman's speech. Davis asks these questions throughout in the shorter comics- who has things figured out? Is there a universal nirvana to which we must all work towards? Why should it cause so much pain? It should be okay to not be okay, to not be there, or any particular place.  What is this idea that's being sold to us-  the notion of happiness as the ultimate pinnacle to be reached is a false one. Do what you have to do to get by, however small, however pathetic it may seem to others. It hurts to read this book.

If you've never come across Davis' work before, Happy shows off her artistic prowess splendidly- she's able to draw really well in a range of styles, and uses colour and shape so cleverly. Two of the other comics I'd like to mention here are Stick and String, and Seven Sacks, both of which are more folk fable in strain. Stick and String is gorgeous, the brown and orange tones lovely and et off by the looser style. A man wanders through the woods playing his ukulele, the flowy musical bubbles wafting from his instrument. And then he comes across something strange: a group of strange, wild beasts- semi-human- playing their own music and dancing around a fire. He's drawn to one of these- a female, whom he lures out and into his home via his ukulele. 'Bed,' he points. 'Window.' 'Rafters.' he cooks for her, and then plays some music while she dances. They have sex and falls asleep, but he's awoken by the sounds of her clawing at the walls in distress; she feels literally boxed in and trapped. there is an oft-quoted line from Antoine de Saint-Exupery's the little Prince- 'You are responsible, forever, for what you tame.' The man plays his ukulele to calm her and she falls asleep once more on his chest, the closing, tired, dawning expression on his face as he realises that this is what he must maintain if he hopes to keep her, to 'tame' her. But it is he that wanted her, he that removed her from her happy home and natural environment and now he's stuck, resentful. That quote could easily be applied to man's exertion of dominance over nature.

Davis employs a similar style and colour palette for Seven Sacks, another story heavily fable-ish in tone. A boatman is asked by a skunk-like rodent creature to take him and his load across the river. He does so, they make small talk, and after a pleasant trip, he returns to find another even curiouser passenger waiting, clawed and upright, but wearing a large bird pelt that covers his face and shoulders. He too, has a load in bag, but his is squirming and alive -'rabbits,' he says- and he delivers swift kicks to it as the boatman takes him across the river uneasily.  this back and forth continues, with the boatman making several trips, his passengers growing stranger, larger, their loads bigger. The man suspects more, suspects worse, but carries on taking the money he is offered to do his job, purposely remaining blind to the sinister implications of what's occurring. On the last page, he stands still for a moment looking out to the horizon, his oar at rest 'rabbits' he things. And then again, this time with a full-stop and finality, 'rabbits.' as he pushes off, deciding to believe in the lie. The creatures are all easily identifiable as grotesque, monsterish, inhuman. is the man to be praised for not judging them by their appearance, not making presumptions about their sacks and loads or should he have acted on his strong suspicions. 

I could praise what Davis achieves in this book all day- it's as fine comicking as you could hope to come across: the enmeshing of wonderful art with good, strong narrative that naturally prompts and drives discussion and thought without it feeling overt or jaggedly superficial, is superb. Exceptional cartooning is when those elements come together in a cohesive manner, and Davis' work is on that plane. I haven't come across any comics that raise similar themes and ideas and yet How to be Happy is widely, deeply applicable and resonant. It works and works and works some more. For many people this volume will be their introduction to Elenaor Davis' work; I can't imagine anyone coming away unimpressed.

What's a Nonplayer

The comics internet was all a-excite yesterday over the news Nate Simpson had finally finished the second issue of Nonplayer. Which is great. I like when people get shit done. But being the hibernating comics snail I am, I did wonder who Simpson is and what Nonplayer was. And it's a simple enough story: prodigious talent produces excellent first issue of a new comic, but due to various circumstances is unable to return to work and complete on further issues. Simpson wrote and illustrated the first (of what was intended to be a 6 part mini-series) issue of Nonplayer, publishing it with Image in April 2011 (fun fact: also the month and year in which this blog came into bloody being) and has now finished work on the second issue, which will be due for release in May 2015. In a post on his website, titled 'Halley's comic returns,' Simpson is honest and upfront about the delays and challenges he faced in getting the second installment done: finances, time, motivation, life: having a child, and so forth- it makes for interesting reading. 

In addition to once again reading a comic artist's experience of struggling with creating for any number of reasons, on my part I was a little agog to see something which seems very much in my ballpark in terms of appeal, art and certain facets, seemingly come out of nowhere. I always feel like I should know, or be told, about these things- there's a lapse in the chain here somewhere, folks. As has no doubt been mentioned repeatedly, Simpson has an incredible style that evokes Geoff Darrow (especially in the beasts/creatures he draws) and Terry Dodson- a pared back (in colour and detail) Seth Fisher- one of the aspects he stresses in his blogpost is an unwillingness to compromise on quality on a project of love (he mentions the first issue took a year to complete) and that shows- just look at these images from Nonplayer #1:

So what's the comic actually about? A sci-fi fantasy story centering around Dana Stevens, a brilliant young woman who chooses to spend every free moment role-playing as a fearless warrior in a luscious video game fantasy world called Jarvath, that may have more to it than meets the eye. Dana is not alone in her pursuits and before long her adventures begin to cat-and-mouse back and forth between the two worlds. It sounds good; it looks good- I'm on board.

Although Nonplayers #1 went into a second printing at the time, it's now out of print and selling for the predictably extortionate prices on places like Ebay. Simpson's been in touch with publishers Image about re-releasing it, either digitally or in print -or both- but is yet to hear back. I think it's a safe bet that will happen- this is a special comic that will be easily saleable, not to mention that Image are in far better position with a much large audience then they were 3 years ago; it can only benefit them to give newly interested people the starting point for the story. Something else to look forward to in 2015.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Art Wall: pretty them comics

Some nice art, because it's Monday and because not much is interesting me at the moment and because I like it and because I need a reprieve post wedged between two long text pieces (the Lizz Hickey essay and the forthcoming How to be Happy review). I used to do these kind of posts early in the blog's conception, and then stopped, probably because I thought my producing writing was more important...

I need this rad lady to be in a super-spy librarian comic, stat. By Roman Muradov.

Dr Doom by Toby Cypress, whose art I'm into in a big way right now.

I think I've shared this Matt Forsythe painting on every social media platform I'm on, I love it that much.

A few quick thoughts on Lizz Hickey's crowd-funding cartoon

Tom Spurgeon linked to a comic by Lizz Hickey last week, which a lot of people had push-back to; I've included the whole thing above, as Hickey subsequently removed it from her site, but its obviously to the brief discussion that follows here.

As with James Sturm's The Sponsor comic, one of the issues here surrounds authorial intent and possible interpretations. On my part, Hickey's style is clearly an exaggerated, super-caustic tone, taking the subject she's railing against to a super-angry nth: it's not wholly literal. There's some humour and some insecurity in there. What I initially read was a general dislike and suspicion towards crowd-funding for artists, but there's also no denying the general intimation that art should be made for the sake of art, and money isn't -or shouldn't be- required: 'Who needs constant donations to draw and follow your passion? Fuck! Get a job bagging groceries! You aren't homeless!! You have electricity and pens and a computer! print your zine at your mommy and daddy's house!' This is the passage that causes contention: the concept of follow your passion is too close to follow your dream/do what you love and those notions are mired in problematic ideals. Generously, this could read as do the best you can with what you have; make art anyway, but even that is incredibly presumptuous.

There are a couple of rough things to unpack here:
  • the idea that art or 'following your passion' doesn't require money
  • the idea that crowd-funding is bad

Art (and I realise that's a very broad term) has traditionally suffered from legitimacy issues, and one of the most harmful concepts to emerge from the culture is that of the passionate, martyr-like artist. The artist is a semi-crazed caricature, unfathomable to others, driven by muses and passion and thunderbolts of inspiration, his lifestyle unique, his work special, he is set apart from social norms and understanding, and crucially: he doesn't care about money- he cares only about the art. The starving artist, if you will, who goes to great lengths in pursuit of his craft. This is an archaic, unsupportable, and harmful ideal, that plays into the way we view art and artists and what they should be: that art stems from a need: something you have to do, to get out from within yourself; its not unlocked by money, money only taints it, it's good and pure if you don't make money from it, and doing otherwise is selling out. It appears this is still something that people want to buy into (ironically): that their art is created from the love of it, and so in turn, artists promoting themselves, working to sell their work, acting in a way that might benefit them financially, is viewed as 'bad' thing, degrading and derogatory. 

With regards to crowd-funding and donations, the gist of what Hickey says resonates and I even agree with. On my part, donations are not something I'm comfortable with; I'm happy to back campaigns that are attempting to publish comics and use such platforms as pre-orders, but I have been wary, infuriated, and quite frankly flabbergast at what people will ask money for- from plane tickets for their partners, to money for new shoes, to rent and gas, and how often. Digital rewards of behind-the-scenes material- looks at rough sketches and concept designs, can feel a bit thin, intangible. But donations are made at the choice of benefactors- it's mildly insulting in the least to imply that people are not intelligent enough to be aware of what they're paying for. or mindlessly exploited, but comics seems to have so very many of these drives running. In the short time I have been involved in this community, I have seen how deeply kind and generous it is, but the increasing numbers and asking- the range of it, also makes me uncomfortable. And there are people taking advantage of that kindness, and while it's nice to think that such drives would easily be recognised for what they are, it doesn't always happen.

At the same time,online funding has been freeing for many artists, allowing them to give up the jobs they had and make art full-time, untethered; I'd guess the majority of artists are making a little bit extra from donations that eases their living costs somewhat, or pays for printing and so forth. To return to Hickey, artists are making art in the first instance- there is no petulant, throwing toys out of the pram exercises -'I'm going to stop making things if you don't support me financially!' but that is a reality that many artists are faced with- at some point making art in the spare time you find around jobs and commitments is simply no longer financially sustainable. How many artists has comics in particular lost to that road? If crowd-funding and donations is a way to temporarily supplant that, then why not? There shouldn't be any shame in that choice. Wanting to be supported and paid for what you do is perfectly valid, and it's kind of sad that we still have to justify that. Money isn't required to make art, or even for validation, but as a tool for food and shelter and time and living, it works just fine. 

Your relationship with donations and giving probably reflects your relationship with money, and how that has developed and grown- how much of it you have had, and have. I come from a working class background, and my parents drilled into me that asking for anything, especially money, was a bad thing to do. Working hard, and helping oneself out was the preferred method to achievement.  And parts of that schooling remain with me today and always will, even as I know that simply working hard, doing good work, being talented doesn't equate to a pay-off of any kind, and is possibly  up there with the fallacy of do what you love: a different mantra from and for a different demographic. On my part, I haven't taken to Patreon because a) I feel uneasy with asking 'people' or 'readers' and b) whether this is my psychology or otherwise, I don't like being beholden: the idea that I will have to produce x amount of articles within a certain amount of time as people are paying for it.

Hickey had a few responses to the criticism she received for her comic on Twitter: 'I only feel bad that I wasn't able to fully express what I meant with that comic and wasn't specific enough.' 'I work two jobs, so I couldn't care less about this conversation. My drawn dumb comic persona is exaggerated and a joke.' 'The punchline is that I use negativity to fuel my own art. It's just a joke and something I drew in like 5 minutes as reaction.'

I like Hickey's work, and please don't confuse me in thinking 'bad' or 'stupid' opinions are brave (I'm not saying Hickey's ideas are either), but even beyond Hickey, I do think we too quickly shoot down people who discuss things openly and honestly. This doesn't necessarily mean that they align with that position hardcore, 100%; the very idea of art is that it allows you to explore ideas and concepts that aren't decided upon. Art would be much more boring if intent and message was laid out clearly and cut and dried, or it espoused values and notions we all thought good and agreed upon. I'm of the opinion conversations need to be more about discussion and listening and working towards improvement rather than about 'winning' or being 'right'- more times than not, there's not always a right or wrong (certainly the model of crowd-funding and online donations is the most interesting thing- still relatively new and in flux, and may evolve- how sustainable is it in the long-run?). Sure, point out flaws and counter-arguments, but I don't know, I'm wary against quick judgements and writing off- I get the impulse (I've probably even done it), and the nature of online culture probably amplifies that reaction, but it seems counter-productive to moving forward and betterment. I'm aware I sound like somebody who stands in the middle and shouts 'Can't we all just be civilised about this?!', but the reason I don't participate with this kind of 'opinion' article regularly is that nuance and shades are so rarely allowed or acknowledged- you have to pick a side and it has to be the right one or else condemnation follows. I'm not fussed about vilification, but nor am I interested in things that can be this or that- one thing only; that's not my experience of life.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Black Comix Arts Festival (BCAF) launches with inaugural 2015 event

There's another new comics show hitting the circuit in 2015: the Black Comix Arts Festival, or BCAF, will be hosting its inaugural event in January over the weekend of the 18/19th at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens. The festival is funded by the Northern California Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Foundation, a charitable organisation who aim to put Dr King's vision into practice in helping people to connect to community and services via a variety of ongoing and targeted initiatives, of which BACF is the latest. The event  and activities are free for all to attend and the programming sounds strong; in addition to the main show which will see the likes of LeSean Thomas (animation director of Black Dynamite, The Bondooks), Afu Richardson (Genius), Tony Puryear (Concrete Park), Erika Alexander (Concrete Park, and more in attendance, there's also a range of kids activities, film screenings, panels and cosplay- for a fuller, more detailed look at what's on, visit the website here. I think table applications are also still open, if you're interested in exhibiting- again for further information and prices, the site is the pace to go.
'BCAF’s mission is to celebrate the creativity and subjectivity of African Americans in the comic arts and popular visual culture and is dedicated to the notion that all audiences deserve to be subject in the culture in which we participate.'
I used to be pretty ignorant regarding this type of identification: 'queer anthology,' 'short stories by black writers,' 'poems by Muslim women'  and so forth, thinking it further boxed in and reinforced labels applied by others, and that a person is a person and should be defined as such, but the reality is we live in a world which hasn't progressed to that level. What it does allow people to do is not only own and appropriate the label for themselves, but also to celebrate who they are, what they do in a hugely affirming way, and to create spaces that frankly aren't always available elsewhere. These are the kind of events and creators that support should be thrown behind, if you're truly interested in seeing comics from artists of colour, rather than vague, superficial attempts at 'diversity.' I can see BCAF being well-attended -comics audiences, at least, have grown more and more diverse-  and I hope it is, and that it's the first of many.

Friday visual goodness: Manddy Wyckens' elegant people sketches

I just feel like sharing some nice art today, so let's do that- it is Friday after all. I've been looking at  -and loving- the people studies Manddy Wyckens has been doing in her sketchbooks. They're lovely and elegant and fine-lined. There's an effortless quality to them; she seems to have great control over the lines despite them not appearing overly loose. I'm a sucker for these kind of drawings, especially when artists pay attention to fashion and style; it doesn't have to be anything huge or dramatic- a blue puffa jacket, an Adidas track top with a beanie hat, a woolen scarf worn with a cargo jacket, a ribbed crop top- it's that easy to add interest and character. And it's expressive, too- really impressive work. This is the reason I love Margaux Motin so much- she's super at this, and I treasure her one, excellent English language graphic novel, But I Really Wanted to be an Anthropologist. Oh, to see another comic drawn in this style...  Wyckens is a visual development artist currently residing in France and has worked for places like Laika/house and Disney Feature. You can find more of  her work at her website.

Of Space Captains and Night Florists

Taking a look at a couple of books from DoGooder Comics today. The Scottish outfit have been quietly (or not so quietly depending on whether you're following publisher Colin Bell's Twitter!) industrious, most notably with Bell's and Neil Slorance's Dungeon Fun series, which won a host of awards and has been selling very well indeed. Bell was kind (and thoughtful) enough to send me the a couple of new releases he thought were more up my alley, and I'm glad to see that they've branched out into working with a variety of artists with different styles- that can only ever be a strength, I think.

(An aside: a few people have said that they would like to see purchase links to items- I usually do this anyway- all you have to do is click on the bolded, hyper-linked titles of the books below and it will take you directly to the online shop and listing of said book. Meanwhile, I am still looking into if there is a better way to facilitate this.)

Night Florist by Becca Tobin: I'm a big fan of Becca Tobin's but this isn't really a comic; there's no inherent thematic link or narrative that makes the full page illustrations sequential- I guess there's an argument to be made to what degree the images could be called comics in and of themselves. There are a couple of short strips and a comic at the end. I mention this not to be pedantic- honest!- but because I know of a few people who were looking to pick this up as an introduction to Tobin's work, on the basis of the reputation she's built for herself online. What it is is a collection of art which still articulates why she's being talked about and gives you a feel to the tone of her work.

Tobin has a style that takes elements of recognisable artistic strands withing the medium: there's the melting, sweaty viscerality of the Crumb aesthetic tempered by a more liquid and loose approach, offset with watercolour palettes often very warm and bright- raw pinks and deep oranges and yellows. The fluidity extends to both expression and lines: at times textures can take on a raw, bulbous sheen, and there's liberal depictions of bodily fluids, that when coupled with Tobin's pulsating colouring provide an unsettling point of interest. It's reminiscent of fine-lined French-Canadian styles- Pascal Girard's nervous lines come to mind, though Tobin has a surer hand, and despite these numerous interpretative facets. at it's best Tobin's work manages to retain an individuality -melding delicacy with body, and the afore-mentioned dollop of gloopy intrinsicness.

The world she draws is a mystical, spiritual place inhabited by a furry, animal/human/creatures/plant beings, somewhat Trondheim-like at times. Her paintings are beautiful and well shown off in this A4 format: ranging from alternative tarot cards, people looking for connection as they immerse their head in screens straining to touch one another, sexual picnics, downtime nail painting, a woman and her dog cooling off with an ice-cream after decapitating a man with the sword she's leaning on. There's  lots of eyes- that whole 'windows to the soul' seeing thing- not just third eyes, but  eyes set in arms, on clothes, in a floating, glowing triangle, on the forehead.

Sometimes an illustration is so brilliantly rendered that the sheer power of technique and mastery is what arrests the attention, others- it's something powerful that's figuratively represented -there are so many different ways to illicit demand- and whilst the illustrations here are visually pleasing, they suffer somewhat from a lack of meat, a focal point of engagement, they don't offer enough for the reader to latch on to. Tobin is very capable of producing of very good work: her excellent comic, Detective (from earlier in the year), for example, shows she has the chops, dancing a line between potential menace and humour, while her colours shimmer and drip with heat before your eyes; a pressurised scrutiny of sorts that requires investment. Similarly her Bird Lady comics are charming and funny and widely relatable. Tobin's a talented artist with lots of potential, and Night Florist is lovely to look at, but the selection of work here does a disservice in adequately showcasing her abilities. 

Space Captain by Chris Baldie and Michael Park with additional art by Dave Morrow: This was excellent. I'm unfamiliar with the authors and had only seen the cover previously as it made the comics internet rounds a bit, but had no clue as to what it was about. Apparently it had a very modest, very successful Kickstarter campaign via which it came into being  -and if I was one of those backers I'd be delighted with what I received. Incidentally I like that cover a lot: there's something Herge-esqe about it- perhaps those stupendous moustaches, and the mixing of that with the iconography of the side profile looking outwards and slightly upwards, ready to take on the world and all comers, the red white and blue connoting western imperialism. Simple and effective.

Space Captain opens with a neat little riff on The Thing. A figure walks a snowy landscape with various science-y contraptions to discover something in the ice. Only in the panel before we're shown the amazing discovery, he throws back his hood to reveal he's an alien. And the 'thing' in the ice is a frozen human. We quickly learn, however, that the human is actually more alien that we thought- he's been encased in the ice for decades and the human race is now extinct. Needless to say, there are parties both good and dubious who are very interested in this discovery and want their mitts on that human. On Space Captain's part, he seems to be suffering from memory loss- the last thing he remembers is falling and then: nothing. I appreciated Space Captain's characterisation here: he's vulnerable and cautious, quiet, trying to figure out what's happened, where he's turned up- I liked all these qualities in lieu of the wild panicky, shouty, paranoid, hostile guy so often utilised in similar situations. That smart characterisation extends to others, although perhaps to a lesser degree, but Baldie and Park don't rely on trope and type but use that familiarity to connect readers with the work- I already love Doc. And that ability to make readers care always helps- you find yourself aligning with certain characters and invested in what happens to them- it's a story with heart.

The art is very good: backgrounds are kept largely sparse, but the style is appealing and works cleverly as a foil to both the brevity and the humour present. The panel layouts are inventive but sometimes needlessly so- more thought could be given as to why a particular size, number or orientation is being employed and what effect it has- at times this seems to be done haphazardly and the constant change can get annoying. I enjoyed a two panel sequence in which someone is knocking on the door and Doc scoots over on his swivel chair to open it. In the left panel he's at his desk not wearing his glasses and in the second he's pulled himself together and moved to wards the door. The section of room in the background is shown as one, the only thing splitting the two Docs and time is the gutter. Neatly done. There's a great panel in which these two squiggles make up the whole of Doc's hair and hairstyle, and it's brilliant, really quick, loose lines that just work.

One of my frustrations with reading part ones and volume ones (and I'm not really talking regular mainstream comics here, but books which have a few months to a year in between installments) that lead directly into another part of the story is that they can too often be poorly executed. Whether it's because the story wasn't really intended to be broken up, and reads like it's abruptly been cut off, or that it's divided into sections that are too slight. Baldie and Park do a fantastic job in achieving a balance that provides setup and hooks interest in a way that feels satisfactory and fulfilling: a few key characters are introduced, the premise is deftly established, the story gets going. At the close of Space Captain, there's a sense of one cycle ending  and another beginning- by the end, Space Captain has been anointed, and purpose regarding what to do next set out, so there's some idea of possible trajectory while much is still left to explore and be explained. That it is also funny, warm, and mysterious makes it all the more commendable. Very solid, engaging storytelling. I'm eagerly looking forward to that second issue.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Calum Alexander Watt's fantastic Alien: Isolation concept designs and storyboards

There are a few things that will divert me from the straight and just road of comics blogging and keeping things um 'pure' over here in my little corner of world, and one of them is Alien (others include, but are not restricted to, dinosaurs, Godzilla, jalapenos). I've been hearing a bit about the new Alien game, Alien: Isolation, mostly about how good it is, a little about how it's not as good as well as reading Abhay Khosla's diary entries as he navigated playing it. My love for Alien is such that I have considered buying this game despite the last time I played a game being when the Sega Mega Drive was launched in the 90's. It's obviously not the first Alien game to be released, but it is the first one I've heard largely positive things about.  From what I can gather, the game is set  after the events of the original Alien but before the second movie, and follows Ripley's daughter Amanda, who is investigating the disappearance of her mother. Amanda is transferred to the space station Sevastopol to find the flight recorder of the Nostromo only to discover an Alien has terrorized the station and killed the vast majority of the crew. While I've been umming and aahing over that, I came across these fantastic concept designs by Calum Alexander Watt who worked on the game, and instantly became a little more enamoured with the idea. Watt points out that he tried to retain Cobb, Moebius, Mollo and others influence and aesthetic, simply because it is so iconic and works that well. I like that: I like that they're so familiar in look and yet distinct enough to be recognised as the work of someone else.

'The first time he first batch of character work for Creative Assembly's ALIEN:Isolation. 2011. As mentioned previously, the majority of this works owes a debt to John Mollo and Moebius. Their original work on the film has lasted the decades and still stands as the benchmark for serious scifi work today.

All in game mesh work (as far as I know) is based off scanned actors, so I feel my role here was more of costume designer than character designer, but it's always nice to reflect some of the personality in pose, attitude and accessories.'

Watt's also done another post on the storyboards he produced for the game, which are excellent and very nice to look at in their own right. Head on over to his site to see and read more of everything. Superb work all round; always love seeing good Alien related art and things.